Finding Your Seat • The Journey of a Veteran and Yogi with PTSD

Chris Eder is a certified Vinyasa/Hatha Interdisciplinary Yoga Instructor. His yoga journey began in 1999 after he encountered the joys of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult ADD. A friend introduced him to yoga as an alternative to pain pills and other meds. When not teaching yoga, he is working on his seva project, MalaforVets.

Chris is also the Director of Communications for Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

In this article for VAntage Point, he shares his journey and his thoughts on going forward.

Chris Eder, Director of Communications, Mindful Yoga Therapy for VeteransI have a hard time remembering things. I’m easily startled by my actions. I believe my doctor is either the world’s worst doctor or the most brilliant doctor. I sweat and sweat and sweat, and sleep with a mouthpiece, which I hate.

I’m a 23-year Air Force Veteran, a combat correspondent/broadcast journalist. My list of ailments reads like a novel: Attention Deficit Disorder, PTSD, sleep apnea, anxiety and general depression. Add my memory problems to this list. If that weren’t enough, the doctors have found a growth on my brain. (The good news is it is NOT cancer.) I absolutely hate taking medications because my body has a tough time with them. With that said, I firmly understand there is a time and place for meds and currently, I’m taking several.

Did I mention I’m also a yoga instructor?

I began practicing yoga back in 1999 and got hooked! I’ve studied and trained with experts in areas like trauma sensitive yoga, Veterans yoga, yoga for Vets with PTSD, mindfulness and meditation. In 2007, I began teaching yoga while deployed to Baghdad. Then I transferred to Vicenza, Italy, where I taught yoga twice a week. I was able to stop taking ADD meds for several years because of my practice.

The problem is I got so wrapped up in being a care provider that I neglected to notice “I” needed some of the “medicine” I was sharing with others. To make matters worse, I was no longer comfortable in my own “seat,” with who I was. In other words, when I lead a yoga or meditation practice, everything is great. But when alone with my thoughts, it is often a nightmare.

I struggle every day with so many different questions. How could I have PTSD? I’m not an infantryman! Why is my meditation not as good as it used to be? Why can’t I sit? I know how to, but I can’t meditate. I know the benefits of food, movement, mindfulness and meditation. So why can’t I practice aparigraha – non-possessiveness – and just let go, and use my military and yoga discipline and do what I know needs to be done?

The answer is much simpler than the solution: Santosha, or acceptance, contentment. I can’t find my seat because I’m still looking for my old seat … and it turns out, that’s not mine anymore. Clearly, I’m not the same person I once was; simple logic concludes that my seat isn’t the same either.

The problem is my wounds and injuries are all invisible. When I look at myself in the mirror – minus the wrinkles, hair loss, etc. – I still see a very able person who rightly should be able to do anything, to include being the same “me” I once was. But I can’t, so my challenge is how can I accept and be content with who I am now.

I found my answer in two different locations.

My friend JT is a wildly successful military photojournalist. I heard him talking to a class of brand-new photojournalists about a mistake he made as a young photojournalist. Turns out, he was constantly in friendly competition with another photojournalist who aspired to be just like Joe McNally, an established photographer. But after JT saw the work of another military photojournalist whose work he admired, he realized he needed to stop worrying about what others were doing and find what made himself special. Once JT found his “seat” in photography, he began to take some incredible images. Today, he is the reigning Military Photojournalist of the Year, an award he has won an unprecedented seven times.

The second place that I found my answer was within me. As a yoga instructor, I find myself spending a lot of time doing three things.

First, I’m always looking for new ways to say the same thing in as many different ways as possible, as it’s important that I can relate to my students who have different points of reference. Second, I make sure everyone knows that everybody’s body is different. Don’t worry about what the yogi to your left or right looks like in pose or what others can do that looks better than you – focus on your body and your pose, and commit to giving yourself your best.

Finally, I’m always encouraging my students to be the best they can be for themselves.

What I’ve come to realize is that I need to do those things, too. I need to focus on who I am now and become comfortable with that person. When I start to feel good, I know I have to keep consistent focus on myself to make sure I keep that good feeling going, because yoga and meditation are cumulative.

Most importantly, my body is not your body. Heck, my body is no longer the body I had before. There is no need for me – or you – to beat ourselves up to be someone, or something we no longer are. Just be the best you you can be. If that “you” changes, that’s okay – adjust and find your new “seat.”